By Carey Gillam
March 7 Kansas is violating the state
constitution in its funding of public schools, a duty that is
mandatory and not to be left to the whims of state legislators,
the Kansas Supreme Court ruled on Friday.
The court has given the Kansas legislature until July 1 to
fully fund its obligations for state school funding for the next
year. That amounts to at least $129.1 million, according to
plaintiffs in the case.
"This is a great win for Kansas kids," said attorney John
Robb, who represents the school districts, parents and students
who brought the case. "It means that the constitution actually
has meaning for kids in Kansas."
But while the court upheld part of a lower court finding in
favor of a group of public school districts claiming the state
should provide more money for education, the court also reversed
part of that lower court ruling. Some issues were remanded back
for further review by a district court panel, including whether
or not the state is meeting its duty to provide an adequate
The lower court ruling, issued in January 2013, found Kansas
was short-changing its students, and rejected as illogical a
state argument that it could not afford increases in school
funding at a time when the state was cutting taxes.
Kansas Governor Sam Brownback and Republican lawmakers have
argued that school funding levels should not be determined by
courts but by legislators.
The Kansas high court rejected that position, pointing to
Article 6 of the state constitution, which says "the legislature
shall make suitable provision for finance of the educational
interests" of the state.
"The intent of the people of Kansas is unmistakable," the
supreme court said. "The Kansas constitutional command envisions
something more than funding public schools by legislative fiat."
The ruling Friday comes as Brownback's re-election campaign
is under attack by critics who say the sweeping tax cuts he has
championed have come at the expense of schools and poor
residents who have seen public assistance programs cut.
Brownback and Republican legislators have been slashing taxes in
a professed bid to spur job growth in the state.
The governor offered terse comments after the ruling.
"This is a complex decision requiring thoughtful review,"
Brownback said in a statement. "I will work with leadership in
the Kansas Senate and House to determine a path forward that
honors our tradition of providing a quality education to every
child and that keeps our schools open, our teachers teaching and
our students learning."
In its ruling, the Kansas Supreme Court distinguished
between the "adequacy" of funding for schools and "equity" in
It found that the district court was wrong in how it
determined whether or not Kansas was meeting its duty for
adequate funding of public education and instructed the district
court panel to revisit that issue. The lower court had ruled
that the state must provide at least $4,492 per pupil annually
for the state's roughly 600,000 students.
"Total spending is not the touchstone for adequacy in
education," required by the state constitution, the supreme
But on the equity issue, the court found that the district
court panel correctly determined that Kansas was acting
unconstitutionally, relying on "wealth-based" disparities to
deny certain school districts money they were entitled to.
The state historically has made state aid payments to
certain poor school districts through a capital outlay
provision, but did not authorize such payments for fiscal 2010
and lawmakers have prohibited any transfers from the state's
general fund for such payments through the fiscal year ending
June 30, 2016.
The supreme court said additionally that Kansas funding was
improper because the state had been pro-rating supplemental
general state aid payments, which certain districts were
entitled to for their local budgets.
Inequities in the state's funding must be cured so that
school districts have "reasonably equal access to substantially
similar educational opportunity through similar tax effort," the
"Until recently, Kansas had an adequate school funding
formula, but that all changed when the state enacted a massive
tax cut for the wealthy and passed those costs on to low-income
students," Wade Henderson, president of The Leadership
Conference on Civil and Human Rights, said in a statement.